News 2021: UMass Dartmouth researchers focus on equity and identity in STEM during Massachusetts STEM Week
UMass Dartmouth researchers focus on equity and identity in STEM during Massachusetts STEM Week

Associate Professor Shakhnoza Kayumova and doctoral students presented research on teaching and learning best practices for students

Prof. Shakhnoza at a computer
Associate Professor Shakhnoza Kayumova (right)

During the fourth annual Massachusetts STEM Week, Associate Professor Shakhnoza Kayumova (STEM Education) and STEM Education doctoral students Chinmany Mahabal and Eleanor Richard presented “Collaboration in Engineering with a Focus on Equity and Identity.” Their workshop provided educators a chance to learn more about the benefits of collaborative learning within diverse science and engineering K-12 classrooms.

The highlight of the presentation was the group’s research into the challenges of initiating and maintaining equitable and productive teacher-to-student and student-to-student collaboration. Their study was conducted with multilingual young people from Black and Brown communities residing on the SouthCoast.

“Educational inequities continue to persist historically marginalized groups in STEM disciplines. Often, we may falsely attribute these disparities to lack of skills and knowledge. However, studies show that this deficit view perpetuates inequities in STEM disciplines and does not take into consideration the developing STEM identities of youth. For example, you hear people say, ‘I am not a science person,’ or ‘I have never been a math person.’ This idea of ‘being a science person’ is related to identity development that is a result of our schooling and education,” said Associate Professor Shakhnoza Kayumova. “In my research group, we study how to disrupt deficit-based thinking and to develop asset-based pedagogies that can support positive identity formation among racially and linguistically diverse youth, hence reducing inequities overtime. Despite the pandemic, we have continued working with teachers and students from local schools, and we are particularly thankful to our partners such as bilingual/multilingual families and youth, as well as school partners such as New Bedford and Fall River Schools who are working with us in this endeavor.”

Kayumova and her team uncovered ways that teachers can enact equitable practices and how students and teachers can work together to co-author their engineering designs and collective identities as engineers.

“I come from traditional engineering background, where the goal of the curriculum is measured in technical skills and abilities. However, in the STEAM program, as a teacher, I became a part of research on different pedagogical moves to create equitable spaces where the deficits were turned to assets. This was a great experience as a teacher to unlearn and re-learn the methodologies with crucial inputs from the research team led by Dr. Kayumova,” said Chinmany Mahabal. “One of the major emphases were the importance of racial, linguistic, and cultural equalities, to create an environment for better collaborations between students and teachers. This collaboration method focusses more on the ‘reflection in action’ strategy and breaks the traditional knowledge hierarchy between teacher-student so both can exchange their assets in engineering design process.”

Shakhnoza STEM Week presentation slide
Associate Professor Shakhnoza Kayumova presents a slide during STEM Week

Near the end of the workshop, STEM identity stories from participants were featured to give the audience first-hand context to the issues.

“Within our workshop, we wanted to center on the voices of our students and teachers as the multilingual collaborators within our STEM classroom who engaged in challenging work of engineering sense-making,” said Eleanor Richard. “It was a remarkable experience to exchange ideas with educators across the state around how we can support students in bringing the cultural and linguistic strengths and assets of multilingual students into STEM classroom collaboration.”

The research project is a product of the STEAM Language, Learning & Identity Research Lab. Led by Kayumova, the lab examines questions related to equity in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) learning and identity development. Kayumova's research is aimed at improving equitable outcomes among young people of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds—and particularly communities and groups who have been historically underrepresented and underserved in the STEM disciplines.